June 15, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Peyton Manning recreates Super Bowl I with a jetpack

When he was playing in Super Bowls, Peyton Manning never got a chance to watch the halftime shows. But he does now.

In his ESPN+ show “Peyton’s Places,” the legendary quarterback journeys through NFL history to show viewers in his humorous way the people, places and situations that helped form the game. In an episode that will debut Sunday, the day the Kansas City Chiefs play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Manning explores the history of the Super Bowl halftime show — and reenacts the pageantry and silliness of the Super Bowl I version.

Manning spoke this week to Times NFL writer Sam Farmer about the history of halftime shows.

In the quarterback’s words:

Can you believe that Fox once had a head-to-head showdown with the NFL?

It was almost 30 years ago, when Washington was playing Buffalo in the Super Bowl on CBS, when Fox featured a live performance of “In Living Color” at the same time as the halftime show. They had a lot of football-themed skits. Everybody switched over to this fledgling network to watch.

I think the NFL had figure skating as the halftime show. “Miracle on Ice,” or whatever it was. So everybody switched over to Fox to watch Jim Carrey and the Wayans brothers. It was a huge success for Fox at the time, but as Keenen Ivory Wayans says, “We woke up a sleeping giant.” The NFL had fallen asleep on the halftime show. After that, the league said, “This is unacceptable. This cannot happen.” And the next year, who does the NFL have at halftime of the Super Bowl? Michael Jackson. The rest is history on the halftime show.

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But I was really interested in the first Super Bowl halftime show at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. So we went to L.A. and got James Lofton, the great Hall of Fame wide receiver, who attended Super Bowl I with his dad. He basically said that at like 10 that morning his dad was like, “Hey, James, do you want to go to the Super Bowl?” And James said, “Sure. Yeah. Sounds good.” No planning, nothing.

They drove down, went to the ticket booth, grabbed a couple tickets. Twelve bucks for a ticket. They started kind of high up in the stadium, and because there’s 33,000 no-shows, each quarter they kind of moved down a little closer. By the fourth quarter, James said, “We’re on the 45-yard line, 20 rows up, in prime seats.” It wasn’t that big a deal.

The Rams were a big deal, but people didn’t really care all that much about the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. People thought tickets were expensive. I think Rams tickets were $6, and people thought the nerve and audacity of the NFL to charge $12. People just weren’t having it.

Obviously, James as a 10-year-old kid had no idea of the legend of Vince Lombardi to come, and that the Super Bowl trophy would be named after the Packers coach. What stuck out for James was the halftime show, and the guy flying around with a jetpack.

Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, wanted the field to be covered with action at halftime. That was kind of his thing. “I want something in every area of the field. If we’re going to have figure skating, I want little skaters in different parts.” That year they had four bands from different regions of the United States. The Saints were about to become an expansion team the next year, so Rozelle had Al Hirt do a little jazz trumpet performance as a tribute to that.

They released 10,000 balloons at halftime and a certain number of pigeons as well. I’m sure that was extremely exciting for all the fans, when a pigeon is doing its business over your head. I’m sure that was a lot more exciting than, say, Michael Jackson or Beyoncé.

They had two huge footballs at midfield, and somewhere between the bands and balloons and pigeons, two guys hopped out with jetpacks and flew them in little loops around the field. One represented the NFL and the other the AFL. They landed and shook hands to symbolize peace between the two leagues.

Peyton Manning wears a jetpack to simulate a portion of the Super Bowl I halftime show.

(ESPN)

At the time, people thought jetpacks were going to be the future. They thought that’s the way you’d go to work, like the Jetsons. Turns out, jetpacks are extremely hard to operate. They are not safe. They are not parachute-friendly. So it ended up not being a real trend-setter.

The staff at the Coliseum, Southern Cal’s people, was really cool. They had it down to a T, and it was a gorgeous L.A. day. They painted the Coliseum field with the Chiefs and Packers end-zone logos, just like in Super Bowl I. It was almost a prediction of this year’s matchup if not for a bad call by Green Bay’s defense just before the half, but I digress.

My dad, Archie, and my brother, Eli, and I were also out in L.A. at the time to do a Super Bowl spot leading up to the game for Frito-Lay, so they came out to the Coliseum and we did a couple of interviews with them about retirement. Those are for episodes that haven’t run yet.

My dad was telling me how he played in the Coliseum against the Rams back in the day. Some of his blood is still out there. But he also threw a pass to Lofton in a Pro Bowl there.

James and I didn’t reenact that, but we did re-create Packers quarterback Bart Starr to Max McGee on the first touchdown of Super Bowl I. Legend has it that McGee went deep the night before, went out late and kind of partied it up. Then he shows up and catches two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. So much for, “You’ve got to go to bed early, and you’ve got to have curfew,” right?

The route was kind of the equivalent to a skinny post, a deep slant, if you will. Bart was on the 43-yard line, and we matched it up perfectly. James coached me through it. Bart’s under center, takes a five-step drop, and McGee’s out to the left. James gets in a three-point stance like Max McGee — I thought that was classic — and he runs his route. In the Super Bowl, Bart actually throws it behind him. Now normally, if the throw is behind you, you stop running, turn, catch it, and turn to the side where the ball was.

McGee stuck his hand back, caught it, and kept running for a touchdown. I’m probably over-reading it, but it was like he was thinking, “I don’t really feel like turning. My head’s hurting. I’m not turning around. I’m just going to keep running.”

In re-creating it, it’s kind of hard to throw a ball behind somebody on purpose. You can do it in the flow of things, but James and I got it on the first one. I kind of threw it behind him, he stuck one hand out there and caught it, and turned toward the end zone.

It was a back-shoulder throw over the middle, which I really wouldn’t recommend. Anything over the middle that’s not on target is usually a recipe for disaster, behind or high up. But when you’re throwing to a Hall of Famer like James Lofton, I felt pretty good about it. Obviously Max McGee knew what he was doing that day.

James Lofton and Peyton Manning look out over the field at the Coliseum while shooting an episode of "Peyton's Places."

James Lofton and Peyton Manning look out over the field at the Coliseum while shooting an episode of “Peyton’s Places.”

(ESPN)

Super Bowl I was a good game in the first half before the Packers ran away with it in the second. It’s amazing how the NFL has grown since then. The only thing similar about this year’s Super Bowl with the Buccaneers and the Chiefs is going to be the crowd size.

I put on the jetpack, by the way. We simulated like I was flying. I think anybody who knows anything is going to know it’s a green-screen job for sure. It’s heavy. Not easy to stand in, much less walk around in. So it’s probably a good thing the jetpack didn’t work out.